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At Wolf Ranch

By:Jennifer Ryan

At Wolf Ranch - Jennifer Ryan

Chapter 1

New York City

Three long days without a word. No call. Not even a text. Ella stared at her phone, willing it to ring. She tapped her finger on the screen and stifled the urge to call Lela for the hundredth time that morning.

The coffee shop buzzed with activity. People headed off to work with their lattes and scones. She sipped at her caramel macchiato, reading over the newest projections on her laptop for the cosmetics line debuting in March. The numbers looked promising.

Ella jumped when her phone vibrated on the table. She snatched it up and read the caller ID.

“Finally.” She swiped the screen to accept the call. “Lela—”

“Where have you been?” Uncle Phillip’s demand surprised her.

Why did Uncle Phillip have Lela’s phone?

Ella opened her mouth to answer her uncle’s question, but he spoke first.

“I oversee the estate. You answer to me.”

“Twisting the truth again, Uncle. Ella and I sign off on everything,” Lela said, her tone unusually sharp. “You’re just a watchdog, there to ensure we adhere to the terms of the will. You have no real power, but you’ll do anything to steal it away, won’t you?”

What? Ella had never heard her sister talk to their uncle in such a disrespectful and spiteful way, or anyone for that matter. Why did her sister call and not say anything to her? Maybe she’d pocket dialed?

“Lela, it’s me. What is going on?” Ella got no response. Uncle Phillip continued to speak over her.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, my dear.” Uncle Phillip’s soft voice belied the steel in his words. “Don’t make me ask again. Be a good girl and tell me where you’ve been.”

This time, her sister answered, but didn’t explain a damn thing. “Uncovering your dirty secret. I know what you did,” her sister accused.


Butterflies in Ella’s stomach fluttered like a flock of birds taking flight. The uneasy feeling she’d carried with her these last days intensified.

Ella gathered up her laptop and notebook, stuffing them into her oversize tote. She dumped the dregs of her coffee in the trash on her way out the door. The penthouse was only a block up from her favorite café where she had breakfast every Tuesday when the house staff had the day off. She kept the phone to her ear and headed home to find out what the hell was going on.

“You won’t get away with this.” Lela’s voice rose in pitch. It took a lot to rile her sister. Whatever Uncle Phillip had done touched a nerve.

“Whatever you think you know doesn’t amount to anything without proof.” Her uncle used that chilling, yet utterly calm voice.

Ella picked up her pace, sensing the escalation of the situation into something more than just an argument about company business. She pulled her bag close to her side under her arm and ran for her building, knocking elbows and shoulders with other pedestrians. No time to apologize, she ignored their outraged remarks.

“Oh, I have the proof.”

Proof of what?

“You’re lying.” Uncle Phillip let out a nervous laugh.

“You wish.”

Ella passed her building’s doorman and ran for the elevator, pushing the button three times, frantic for the doors to open.

“Where is it? Show me.”

Come on. Come on. The elevator doors finally opened and she rushed inside and pressed the button for the penthouse. Ella prayed she didn’t lose the cell signal and drop the call. She only ever got one bar in the elevators.

“You think I’d be fool enough to bring it here? To you? I’ll see you in jail before this day is over.”

“I’ll see you in a grave first.”

The ice in her uncle’s tone frosted Ella’s heart. The evil laced there erased all trace of the man she knew. He meant those ominous words.

Lela gasped and let out a startled shriek. Ella didn’t want to believe her uncle actually struck Lela, but that’s what it sounded like.

“What. Did. You. Find?”

“Everything,” Lela sputtered.

What? What are you talking about?

“If you’re lying to me—”

“Let me go. It’s over. There’s nothing you can do. I can prove you did it.”

Did what?

“Don’t look at him,” Uncle Phillip snapped.

Him? Who else is there?

“Please, do some—”

“He’s not here to help you, you stupid girl. He works for me. Everyone works for me. You should have left well enough alone.”

Lela shrieked again. Ella’s heart dropped into her stomach.

“This is your final chance. Tell me where it is and I’ll make this quick. Refuse and I’ll take my time. You’ll know the meaning of the word ‘pain’ when I’m done with you.”